Can animal abuse be a 1 time thing?
March 18, 2009 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I came home unexpectedly yesterday to discover my fiance kicking our beloved dog. I am not sure how to proceed. Please help.

My fiance and I have been engaged for almost 6 months after a 3 year courtship. We're getting married in June. he's always been a kind and caring person who would never hurt a fly. We have had "Alley" since she was a puppy, and she's our baby. We're planning on having kids after we marry and I want Alley to be their dog too.

My fiance recently lost his job and has fought off depression and anxiety. Recently he's changed into a different and angrier person. He's been in therapy and is on anti-anxiety meds. He sits at home all day watching TV or sleeping. Yesterday I made an unexpected trip home in the middle of the day to get a few papers for work and heard yelps and whines. I ran into the kitchen to find my fiance kicking Alley out the door and into the backyard. She looked confused and ran up to him, and he kicked her again. I intercepted him and pulled him into the house, and he started yelling about how she wouldn't stop barking at the telephone (she has never done this before). I've never seen him so angry. I took Alley and went to my sisters house. When I came home to find my husband gone, with a written letter that was profusely apologetic and promised to never be violent again. He has never once raised his voice to me, let alone Alley.

I am wondering if someone really can just be overcome by a fit of anger that will never happen again. Can this be a one-time thing? Am I being melodramatic?

Posted for a friend, who will be monitoring the thread closely.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (105 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Take the dog and get out until he gets serious professional help. This may or may not have been a one time thing, but do you want it to be you he beats up next time?

You are not being melodramatic, domestic violence is nothing to play with. He needs help and you and the pup need to be away from him and safe while he sorts things out.

Look, there will be people in this thread that say "oooh, poor him, forgive him and go back and forget everything" and they are flat wrong. You need to let him deal with his issues before you move back in or allow him to move back in.
posted by legotech at 6:53 PM on March 18, 2009 [9 favorites]

Can this be a one-time thing?

Yes. But insofar as you don't know the future, it's an unprovable hypothesis.

Am I being melodramatic

You (the friend) took the dog away and wondered if your husband would do this again. So no.

But your husband made the choice to kick a dog; he wasn't overcome by anything, much less a fit of anger.

He chose, but it's up to you to decide if the gravity of his action ought to affect your ability to be with him.
posted by trotter at 6:54 PM on March 18, 2009, you're not being melodramatic. If that happened in my house, someone would be finding a new place to live, at the very least. Consider your future plans - what if it had been a crying, colicky baby? Would you still ask this question?
posted by dilettante at 6:54 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

People who kick dogs are the lowest of the low. Leave.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [27 favorites]

This is definitely an issue your husband needs to discuss with his doctor ASAP. Something is off with medication, and I would think that it's possible that once he is properly medicated, this won't happen again. Is he willing to seek help? You say he spends all day sleeping or watching TV, is he willing to start putting some energy into activities that will make him feel better (like exercise)?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:04 PM on March 18, 2009 [11 favorites]

By the report, this guy is responding to depression + medication by laying around all day doing nothing. Doesn't sound to me like the meds are working, might even be hurting. Animal abuse or not, something is wrong there that probably needs addressing.
posted by samsm at 7:04 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't let his depression and anxiety be an excuse. I have suffered from both, as I'm sure have a good percentage of other mefites, and I'd throw myself in front of a moving car before I'd ever kick a dog. That's some low, fucked-up shit and you were right to leave.
posted by sugarfish at 7:06 PM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Something is definitely wrong here.

You have known this man for three years and this is the first time something like this has happened. It's time to call his doctor-either the meds or off or he is sinking pretty bad into an abyss.

But the truth is, yes, a dam was breached here, and you need to find out why before you get married to this man.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:07 PM on March 18, 2009 [22 favorites]

Based on your short description, I would forgive him, this one time. BUT THE WEDDING IS OFF.
posted by metastability at 7:09 PM on March 18, 2009

I am wondering if someone really can just be overcome by a fit of anger that will never happen again

Someone can make a decision to change their behavior and do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens again.

But it doesn't just magically go away on its own. If a physiological disorder or a reaction to medication is causing some kind of radical behavioral change, your husband needs to get that taken care of. If he has a problem with anger management, he needs to take care of that.

Saying "It will never happen again" without a clear plan toward ensuring that it will never happen again sounds like part of the cycle of abuse to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:11 PM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

I would not be this quick to leave him, since this is such a sudden and dramatic change. Tell him to bring it up with the doctor NOW. If he refuses, then you can think about leaving.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:11 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

he's an asshole. the end.
posted by austere at 7:13 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

it also depends how hard he kicked. If was a really hard kick, then I would not forgive him at all. But if it was just a normal kick, it's possibly excusable, once.
posted by metastability at 7:16 PM on March 18, 2009

I would suggest that any future plans are on hold until he has resolved some of the issues (unemployment, depression, aggression).

I would also suggest that you find someplace else to live until this happens.

I'm sorry you are having to deal with this, but better to sort this out before you are married.
posted by HuronBob at 7:16 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I disagree with everyone. People can snap and then they can snap right back.

It is astounding to me how many people have lost the plot when it comes to forgiveness.

Astonishing. And it seems to be more of an American thing for some reason. Is there something in the water here?
posted by Zambrano at 7:18 PM on March 18, 2009 [11 favorites]

Saying "It will never happen again" without a clear plan toward ensuring that it will never happen again sounds like part of the cycle of abuse to me.

I think the "clear plan" Sidhedevil mentions is the key. If there is no plan or no willingness to plan, I can't see staying with a person like that.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:19 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

What trotter said.

The person who is asking this question is the only one who can decide if this is a deal breaker for the relationship. I don't think internet strangers can really assess that for you. I do think that if you decide to stay with him then you must only do it under certain very specific conditions, which he should agree to and stick with. If he doesn't, you must be prepared to end the relationship for good. A few days apart would not be a bad thing, so perhaps you and the dog may want to take a few days break at your sisters' place, or he should stay with friends or family for a few days.

He really needs to learn how to deal with stress, because losing your job is very stressful, but that is only one kind of test in life and in a relationship, and if you want to marry him you want to be sure that he can be your partner in handling all the things that life will throw at youm without taking it out on you, your pets, or any future kids.

So, if you want to try to salvage the relationship, then spend a few days apart, and also let him know what you want him to do, which he should understand is not only for your sake, and for the sake of the poor dog, but also for his sake, as he is a person you care about and fear for. First, he should agree to fess up to his therapist asap, and see if it could be a medication issue, and perhaps depending on what the therapist says, he also should do some kind of anger management course. Second, he needs to agree to premarital or couples counseling. Third, he needs to do something besides sit at home and be depressed. I know the job hunt is tough right now, but he needs to keep looking for a job. In addition and in the meantime he should find something to do - exercise is not bad, but he should also do something that is not self-focused - perhaps some volunteering at a soup kitchen, food bank, or even an animal shelter. No more sitting at home and brooding and letting the dog get on his nerves.
posted by gudrun at 7:22 PM on March 18, 2009

I've heard I have ridiculously high standards, and that I expect too much out of people. Maybe that's why I would never marry a dogkicker, catkicker, birdkicker, opposumkicker, goatkicker, hamsterkicker, ferretkicker, slothkicker, iguanakicker, squirrelkicker, turtlekicker, or any other variety of animalkicker.

(Almost wrote "animallicker". Very bad, too.)

I'm entirely unable to stay on friendly terms with people who take their anger out on the weaker, smaller, or defenseless, you see. Animal abuse is unforgivable behavior. He didn't just flip out and hurt your dog in an impulsive, one-off way (not that that's acceptable) -- he kicked her over and over. I really doubt this is an isolated incident. Maybe that's why I don't even know why you're considering marrying this person. But then, I'm difficult.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:25 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

How do you know it's a one-time thing? How do you know this was the first time?

And I'm sorry, but animal abuse, to me, goes beyond "losing the plot" and a blithe unwillingness to forgive. There are a few things that are deal-breakers: cheating is one, and outright violence is another. I am not a fan of people who, for whatever reason, vent their rage on helpless creatures, be they animals or children. I would not let this guy near my dog again without me being there, and I'd be concerned for my own safety if his rage so easily translates into violence.

I'd leave the dog at your sister's, and I'd go to therapy with your fiance and have a talk with the therapist. Perhaps his medication isn't right for him? But I'd be wary; violence towards the dog could pretty easily escalate to violence towards you.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:29 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

One time when my husband was sick, he was prescribed a particular drug, I forget the name of it now. By the second day, my placid, laid back, loving husband was complaining about how scratchy the towels were, and he stormed out of the house and slammed the door. Behaviour so unusual I rang the doctor and he said, don't let him take anymore, and tell him to come and see me. So, if this is really out of character, then perhaps it's the medication. Myself, I wouldn't marry someone who thought kicking defenseless loving creatures was a reasonable action.
posted by b33j at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2009

Many of you have never been on a med that messes with your emotions. Those of you who are being incredibly judgemental on this thread should consider that there are a lot of things to take into consideration as to how and why this happened. If any of you were on the wrong(right) med you would probably kick a dog or worse.

I am not excusing nor am I blaming this man at this point. What I am saying is that this needs to be gotten to the bottom of, and quickly, before the OP makes any decisions one way or the other.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:32 PM on March 18, 2009 [26 favorites]

Usually I'm first in line with the torches and pitchforks, but the guy has been having a tough time and he's on psychoactive meds. It could be an isolated incident brought on by unusual stress and chemicals, or it could be the first sign of a dangerous pattern of behaviour (although, if he has been a gentle person for 3 years, he'd have to be doing some major repressing). In any case, your job is to figure out which of the two situations you are dealing with before the wedding. The doctor is a good first step.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:41 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

It sounds like he is ill, through some combination of life circumstances, improper medication, and basic psychological make-up. As long as he continues to be ill, this and worse things could happen. You should tell him that he needs to get better, and provide whatever assistance you can to make that happen. But in the mean time, you should start thinking about delaying the wedding or taking other steps to protect yourself. He's clearly currently unstable.

Oh, and lose the TV and couch. He should be out looking for work, exercising, or volunteering. Joblessness+couch+tv=death.
posted by alms at 7:50 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

depression + anxiety + trying new meds = can change a person for sure. have him go back to his psychiatrist and say what is happening.

it's a little stunning to me how quick people are here to judge that the poster should throw a three-year relationship and engagement out the window, after one incident when the person in question is dealing with these issues which are very real & certainly account for sudden changes in personality and behavior. Some of you guys are really harsh and this is probably the wrong place to ask - if a person is depressed, I'm sorry, a lot of them can't just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job, volunteer, etc right away, especially when trying to find the right medication.

Try getting and holding a new job when you don't know if the meds you've just been prescribed will make you change personalities or sleep 20 hours a day or not be able to sleep at all, or any other number of potential side effects, and that also take weeks to even find out if they work, and if they don't, you have to spend a week or more tapering off and trying another one, which takes weeks again. If you are getting treatment sometimes you just have to wait to see if the meds help you get off the couch and be more active, but it takes time. You know, I have never kicked a dog, but I also make it a point not to kick PEOPLE when they're down!
posted by citron at 7:51 PM on March 18, 2009 [15 favorites]

I know people who have been violent but only on a certain drug (Zoloft is one example). It's not about forgiving them for something they had no real control over, it's about getting them onto a better regimen. Do you need to leave until a better regimen is found? Maybe. Do you need to postpone the wedding until such time? Definitely. But if it's about drug reactions (and not about depression or anxiety), then it's a very different story. And this would be my first guess as to what happened, because it sounds like it's out of character.

Second guess: a response to depression or anxiety. I often have thoughts about hurting other people or animals when I am severely depressed. I have never done it, but I've imagined. Therapy can help with curbing impulses. In this case also, postpone the wedding until things are worked out. But this will take longer.

Have you had particularly trying times before? Was he violent then?
posted by jeather at 7:51 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have absolutely zero tolerance for people who abuse animals, but if this is truly out of character behavior for him--and we're talking way, way out there, to the point where you're wondering if alien body-snatchers have replaced your fiance--the meds may be to blame here.

He needs to call his doctor immediately and discuss what happened and what he can do to make damn sure it doesn't happen again. If he's willing to do that right now (or at the latest, first thing tomorrow morning), then yes, he deserves another chance.

If he thinks an apology and a promise will be enough to stop this from happening again, then you need to get yourself and your dog far, far away from him as soon as you can.
posted by tomatofruit at 7:52 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sympathetic to the arguments that he may need understanding and forgiveness, but I certainly think that the action moves him into the realm of needing to earn any consideration through a concerted, organized and professionally supervised visit. So, no, don't just DTMFA, but do separate, demand he get professional counseling, and protect the dog and yourself. If it's a "one-time thing" OK, but it's not YOUR job to make it only one time--it's his, and it's also his job to prove it.
(If you can afford it, consider getting some counseling/behavioral help for the dog, now, as well.)
posted by Mngo at 7:53 PM on March 18, 2009

it also depends how hard he kicked. If was a really hard kick, then I would not forgive him at all. But if it was just a normal kick, it's possibly excusable, once.

A "normal" kick? What's that?

I speak as a lifelong dog owner (until recently, damn pet-forbidding landlord!!), but nudging a dog out to the backyard (or away from the cat's litter box, or off your guests when they come in the door, or away from you while you're eating delicious food) with your leg is one thing, kicking them is another. I'm thinking the OP meant KICK, not nudge, especially since it warranted them taking Alley out of the house and a letter from the fiance (husband?) that he'd never do it again. Yelping is not good, I've only heard it when a dog is really hurt.

You/he should try to figure out if it's the meds or not before you get married, and go from there. (I certainly wouldn't trust someone who would Kick-with-a-capital-K a dog under any circumstances. BUT, that's me. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel is right/fair.)
posted by AlisonM at 7:53 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lots of anti-depressive meds cause irritability and anger. Considering he's never done this kind of thing before he should talk to his doctor asap. Let him get his head straight before all the moralizing and hand-wringing. One of the dirty little secrets of meds is that they change people and the side effects can be incredibly negative but not obvious to the person taking them.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is he on Prozac? That can cause aggressiveness.

Nthing therapy, if you're not going to dump him. If I were in your situation, I'd dump him; people who abuse animals frequently go on to abuse people.

Consult a therapist yourself for an opinion, if you need to.
posted by kldickson at 7:56 PM on March 18, 2009

But if it was just a normal kick, it's possibly excusable, once.

What's a "normal kick" when the person kicking you is twice or more your size and you are totally unable to defend yourself or otherwise seek help?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:00 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once you are married, from time to time, you are going to do something a lot more irritating to him than bark at a phone.
posted by ctmf at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I usually play devils advocate, but in this case I would say this is NOT a person to raise children with. DH and I are about as low-key as you can get, but when you have a colicky 10 week old who will not stop crying for anything (even after reading all the books, tips, etc.....just short of a hot toddy as my grandmother recommended *rolling eyes*), then I can promise you this is NOT the sort of person you would want to father a child. Shaken death syndrome ring a bell? We were stressed out enough as it was.....I can't imagine what the situation would have been like with someone with a much shorter fuse.
posted by texas_blissful at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

People are always so quick to advise someone to leave. I seriously doubt this incident is sufficient to make you leave--if it were, you'd be packing and not typing.

He needed a pressure valve. He cracked. Men are only human. Give him another chance.
posted by jefficator at 8:25 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

If he thinks an apology and a promise will be enough to stop this from happening again, then you need to get yourself and your dog far, far away from him as soon as you can.

I want to second this SO HARD.

Look, I have had weird behavioral hoo-has in my life--I have bad chemistry in the brain and buggy code in the psyche and have been on all kinds of meds, some of which have worked well and others of which made me weird. I also had a massive potassium deficiency that made me nearly psychotic (and hallucinatory, which was fun).

So it's not about not understanding that sometimes people aren't in control of their behavior, because I know that.

It's about avoiding people who apologize/excuse/say "It was only this once, really" instead of actually getting the help they need in dealing with an issue as serious as kicking a dog to the point where it panics an onlooker.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:27 PM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

People who hit animals and can rationalize hurting something defenseless things may also be able to rationalize hitting other defenseless things--like children. Period. Please be very careful here.
posted by teamparka at 8:27 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Pardon, edit out the 'something'.)
posted by teamparka at 8:27 PM on March 18, 2009

He needed a pressure valve.

Kicking a dog is not "a pressure valve." A dog is a living being.

Anyone for whom abusing pets is "a pressure valve" is someone who needs help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:28 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

He needed a pressure valve. He cracked. Men are only human. Give him another chance.

Are you fucking trolling? A punching bag is a pressure valve. Putting your fist through some drywall is a punching bag (if not a healthy one). Going to the driving range and trying to hit that goddamn ball recycler tractor is a pressure valve. Kicking a dog is both a crime in many jurisdictions and a wholly vile thing to do.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:33 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

I do not believe that anything, including depression or meds, would make someone do something that they are completely against when feeling "normal." Mr. Rabbit had the "want to kill the dogs" thing when he tried Wellbutrin... but he didn't act on it, at all. He realized that was completely out of character for him and got his doctor to prescribe something else for him.

I have rabbits, and there are days when I get really, REALLY mad at them, when they jump on the bed and dig holes in the brand new sheets or I discover, when I'm in a hurry, that they've chewed the laces out of my shoes (again). And I have been known to yell at them and even to lock them in a cage if the crime is severe enough. I totally get being mad at pets. But physical harm is a whole different level and displays personality traits that are quite scary.

I would not stay with someone who hurt an animal. Period.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:34 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

All dogs know how to do is to love their people. Their job is to let their people know they are the center of the universe. Rarely, but occasionally that love can come across as odd if the people are in the wrong frame of reference or mood. Regardless, kicking a dog is pretty much the lowest thing his people can do in response to their devotion. The dog simply has no way of understanding the reaction, and may be likely to cower now, for a long time if not indefinitely. Your fiance has unfortunately broken a bond that existed between your dog and him, and yes, you as well. It may be a bond that will never return.
posted by netbros at 8:41 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

The thing is that marriage is for life and life is full of ups and downs. He lost his job and that's very stressful, true but not the end of the world. Do you want a man who falls apart under pressure? What if you lose your job, or get sick, or get hurt in an accident or have a child who has special needs? Is this man going to be there for you? Or is he always going to make a bad situation even worse?

Stress is not a good excuse to either a) lie around on the couch all day or b) act like an asshole. Mental health issues or not (and it sounds like he had none until life got tough) he needs to hold it together.
posted by fshgrl at 8:41 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Kicking can lead to all sorts of medical problems, including but not limited to cracked ribs, soft tissue damage and pulmonary contusions, the latter of which can sound like a slight wheezing but can ultimately lead to suffocation if not attended to by a vet. PLEASE TAKE YOUR DOG TO A VET before anything else.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:52 PM on March 18, 2009

Kicking a dog is not the lowest of the low.
posted by rhizome at 8:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

How do you know it's a one-time thing? How do you know this was the first time?

I don't know about depression or meds, but I do know dogs. It doesn't sound like Alley normally fears him or is shying away from him. And, my dogs occasionally yelp while they are playing.

Good luck to you, OP, I hope things work out for the best for everyone involved.
posted by txvtchick at 8:59 PM on March 18, 2009

I don't think you're being melodramatic at all- a sudden change in personality and behavior in a person who is taking anti-anxiety meds and therapy, certainly sounds like a cause for concern.

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone can really tell how bad the situation is just from your description- it's hard to say whether it was a one time thing or not without knowing more about the situation. Definitely talk to him about how he has been handling things lately, maybe this would also be a good time to encourage him to get out of the house and do something worthwhile with his spare time.

I know the animals lovers in this thread would dump their fiance at the first sign of animal abuse, but I'm not convinced this change in this guy's behavior is permanent. It could be his meds, like others have suggested, or maybe he is handling being out of work very poorly. Either way, I'm an optimist who believes in giving second chances.

Don't just take his word for it that he regrets it, but do give him another chance to prove he's not that kind of person. Then, if he kicks the dog again, he's out.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 9:05 PM on March 18, 2009

What the fuck is this guy on?

Christ, if you're going to ask the OP a question at least do it constructively.

That aside, has he changed medications and/or dosages lately? I've a seen normally mild-mannered person get crazy violent within a week or so of starting Wellbutrin therapy. And all SSRIs, not just Zoloft, can bring on hypomania and agitation. I'm not excusing animal cruelty at all, but it's time to ask his doctor(s) questions rather than make any rash relationship decisions.
posted by thisjax at 9:05 PM on March 18, 2009

There is not a chance in hell you should stay with this man under any circumstances.

If drugs made it impossible for him to control his temper, why hasn't he ever raised his voice to you?

Why hasn't he so much as raised his voice to the dog in your presence-- EVER?

The answer is simple: he was not out of control. In fact, he has always been in control and is an excellent actor. He was taking advantage of a situation in which another living being was totally in his power, and he could indulge his taste for cruelty without fear of detection, his need to assuage his rage at being fired by taking it out on a helpless dog. His anger was the anger of a sadistic sociopath who got caught in the act, and the best he could do was make up some story that had the dog doing something you haven't witnessed in three years of the phone ringing.

You are a very fortunate woman. Can you imagine what you might have experienced, 8 months pregnant and vulnerable yourself with your baby as a hostage? What your baby might have gone through, unable to talk and as totally at his mercy as your dog was?

Take your dog to the vet and make sure she is OK, and ask the vet to check her out for old injuries.

I believe you will be in physical danger from him if he is convinced you intend to leave him. At that point, he will need to take revenge on you to maintain his sense of himself as a privileged, superior being. Don't be alone in his presence if you can avoid it.

This man fooled you badly, as he might have fooled many others, I suspect, but you found him out by a supreme stroke of luck.

He will crank up his great charm and try to reel you in again. Don't let that happen.
posted by jamjam at 9:13 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I can't tell you what to do about your relationship, but I would bet good money this is not the first time he has abused the dog. You just happened to walk in the door at the moment he is randomly kicking the dog for the first time? That seems unlikely to me.
posted by gnutron at 9:14 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just wondering--is your fiancee from another country?

I know in many countries around the world, it's quite common to treat dogs cruelly and violently, even by just your everyday person. This includes some people who will be the most hospitable, friendliest, and most generous people you will ever meet in your travels. Sad but true.

I am wondering if he has different kinds of standards for treating dogs in his country, and if so, you need to make it clear that's not acceptable to you in your country.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 9:16 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think rather than sending him to a therapist, you should send him and the dog to obedience school. He needs to learn how to deal with the dog. Of course it is very bad to kick a dog, but properly disciplining a dog is not. Stopping a dog from incessant barking falls into this category for me.

Obviously, if he doesn't learn to control his anger, then there will be other incidents. But, if in 3 1/2 years this is the first violent episode, then he should probably get off the drugs and find a hobby, because it sounds like they aren't helping.
posted by paperzach at 9:17 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everyone saying "I'd kill myself before I ever hurt an animal"-type bullshit has obviously never been attacked by a dog.

Dogs are pack animals and for their own health and well-being it is important that they understand their place in the pack (i.e., family) and what will be tolerated from the dog in that position. Dogs are not babies and it does them absolutely no favors to treat them like they are something they are not.

In this case the dog does not appear to have provoked violence. Was the guy violently kicking the dog, or suggestively kicking it? Kicking the shit out of a dog just for barking is cruel. Giving a dog a 'gentle reminder with one's foot' not to bark at the phone may be part of an alpha/pack relationship that communicates the unacceptability of the dog's behavior to the dog. There are certainly much better ways of training/communicating with a dog, but kicking a dog is not definitively abusive.

From the brief description you provided, it seems to me that the guy let frustration get the better of him and treated the dog like less than a loyal member of the pack. Depression's a bitch. My advice would be to get the guy off the couch and encourage him to spend more of his time running the dog around a park or beach. It would be good for him, good for the dog, and good for his relationship with the dog.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 9:19 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

My mother is one of the kindest people I know (she has literally given her last dollar to someone else who needed it more), but she suffers from depression/bi polar disorder. When she was really ill, she was borderline abusive to her dog. Otherwise good, loving people can do really horrible things if they are suffering from mental illness. I'd help your fiance get counseling.
posted by bananafish at 9:26 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, I see he's getting therapy. Well, that's good. Maybe you and your counselor can help him work through this.
posted by bananafish at 9:30 PM on March 18, 2009

If he can kick a dog he can kick a cat, a horse, a pig, a duck, a baby, a ferret or a sheep. There are no excuses.

I'm sincerely sorry that you had to find this out about him three and a half years into the relationship, but it sounds like it's time to move on.
posted by Xuff at 9:37 PM on March 18, 2009

I do not believe that anything, including depression or meds, would make someone do something that they are completely against when feeling "normal."

Then you haven't hit the right - and by "right" I mean sufficiently wrong - medication.

I've had meds that made me hallucinate in three senses (audio, visual, olfactory), carry on extended conversations with people who didn't exist - and yes, behave violently towards people. I don't really recall hurting any animals in the mix, but there's a lot of gaps in my memory around the time period this was all going on and it wouldn't surprise me.

There is a fundamental point here: anyone who tells you that a psychiatric imbalance and improper medication can't cause you to do something completely opposite your personality doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about. Not even remotely.

They can and do and I've experienced it and watched people I've loved and people I've hated experience it.

For anonymous' friend:
Your partner is almost certainly experiencing a conflict between medication and an extreme, stress-induced, shift in his neurochemical balance.

You yourself are probably safe but you may not wish to take chances. The dog is probably safe given his current level of guilt but you may not wish to take chances.

What you need to do now is postpone the wedding, "We didn't think it would be right to get married now when Mr. X is at such a stressful juncture in his life and we're both unable to invest the attention our wedding requires blah blah blah," and then sit down and make a top priority of working out his psychiatric and unemployment issues, and *your* new trust issue.

You have to make it 110% clear to him that the future of your relationship hinges on him doing this.

This is almost certainly a one-time event, and not worth throwing away a three-year relationship, but you need to put everything aside right now and focus on fixing this. More than anything he's going to need your love, support, and (lovingly) kicking his ass into getting off the couch and finding a job.
posted by Ryvar at 9:52 PM on March 18, 2009 [26 favorites]

I had a pretty long response typed out, but Ryvar covers everything I had to say, and with more authority. Listen to him, and please ignore the opining people who don't know what they are talking about.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:00 PM on March 18, 2009

OolooKitty: "How do you know this was the first time?"

That's really the answer to your question right there. He might need help. But you definitely need to take a second look.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:05 PM on March 18, 2009

(And by second look, I mean rethink the relationship.)
posted by IndigoRain at 10:05 PM on March 18, 2009

This is almost certainly a one-time event, and not worth throwing away a three-year relationship, but you need to put everything aside right now and focus on fixing this. More than anything he's going to need your love, support, and (lovingly) kicking his ass into getting off the couch and finding a job.

This is spot on.
posted by setanor at 10:23 PM on March 18, 2009

Dodging past the pitchfork-and-torches brigade:

Stress and meds and unemployment and impending wedding = broken fiancé. At very least, you shouldn't get married until both of you feel that he has some control over his life, instead of being dragged along by it. That may mean a job; it may mean different meds; it may mean more therapy. It'll mean steps to break vicious cycles and for him to restore basic trust. It may also mean -- and this is explicitly not laying blame -- that the OP needs to reassess what she's been doing, or is able to do.

I also dislike playing amateur psychologist, but that kind of behaviour comes across as the response of someone who really doesn't like himself right now, and considers affection from others to be either undeserved or some kind of mockery. (In spite of everything, the social weight of perceiving oneself as a "kept man" can bear down, especially with a wedding approaching.) He probably hates himself plenty more now. Like I said, he's broken, but put me in the column that says "fixable, with work".
posted by holgate at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2009

The meds, they are not working.

Contact his doctor (with his permission/help). Either he's on the wrong meds, not enough of the meds, or too much of the meds.

People can snap, but this could be a wake-up call for him as much as you. With the help of his doc, you two can work together to get him on better meds, and get a better plan for the depression than laying around watching TV. (That's another sign that the current med/other therapy regimen is a failure.)

It wouldn't be a horrid idea to postpone the wedding, because realistically finding the right regimen might take months. It's not impossible, but it isn't easy and probably won't be fast. And, unfortunately, change might not come. But I hope for your sake it does.
posted by nat at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2009

Man, y'all some crazy-ass drama queens up in here. Was it a one-time thing? We don't know. Is a dog the same thing as a child? Hell no. Are dog-kickers as bad as rapists, murderers, hell, even Bernie Madoff? No.

Look, Asker, your friend needs to have a discussion with her guy about this and decide what it means for them. But realize that the tendency in AskMe is towards high dudgeon and hysterics, as well as the DTMFA syndrome, where every bad act is an immediate dealbreaker. There's also an extreme cultural bias toward upper-middle class bourgeois conceptions of pet ownership that you, your friend, or her fiancé may not share.

There are all sorts of things that can go into kicking a dog, from chemical rage to simply not knowing how to interact with animals in a constructive manner. That doesn't mean that he's going to beat you or the kid, just that, hey, this is something not good and important.

Oh, and as always, remember that people reading anonymous questions without every single fact spelled out will tend to imagine the most dramatic and entertaining spectacle and base their answers on that. This is, like most questions, something that you're ultimately going to have to deal with and negotiate yourself, within the context of your own relationship.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 PM on March 18, 2009 [20 favorites]

You're asking two different questions with two different answers.

I am wondering if someone really can just be overcome by a fit of anger that will never happen again.

Can animal abuse be a 1 time thing?

The answers to these questions, respectively, are no and yes. I speak as someone who has abused an animal during a murderous rage. (He was all right; fortunately, I'm a wimp.)

A fit of anger like that is not something that can always be foreseen or prevented. The violent reaction to it, on the other hand, can. And the first steps to dealing with that are recognizing first the consequences that it causes--you're helping him with that already--and realizing it can happen again if he doesn't take real steps to make sure it doesn't.

A lot of people have knee-jerk reactions to someone who kicks a dog. Heck, it's used here to define a moment that cements a villain as a villain. And they are right about how wrong the act is; it was the realization of the enormity of the wrong I had committed that led me to learn to identify and head off situations that could lead me that way again.

But where the knee-jerkers are wrong is in assuming that a person who does something like this is an evil person, or a psychopath, or whatever. People who are good people can find themselves doing bad things when they get in a situation that they aren't ready for. Emotions are damned strong drugs, and that's true whether or not there are outside chemicals adding to the mix. And you don't always get to choose when you take them.

Imagine that you're driving a car, and suddenly you find yourself stone drunk. Your judgment and reaction time are impaired, and you're trying to control the deadly force of your vehicle hurtling down the road. That's very much what it's like, only the deadly force is a fight-or-flight response that was designed to deal with marauding cave bears. Lose control and someone or something is going to get hurt; but you haven't got your wits fully about you, and especially if you've just never been this angry before, you don't really even know what's going on, much less know the way to, as it were, get the hell off the road.

I know for a fact that I have the capability in me to cause harm through anger. Everyone has the instinct; most people are better, naturally or through life's training, at controlling it. Because I know that I am susceptible to irrational levels of anger, and because I know what it's led me to do, I've learned to identify and head off acute spells of it, and also identify and walk away from things that can lead me that direction in the first place. It's not easy and not perfectly successful, but I haven't hurt anything in a very long time.

All of this is not to say that you should marry the guy. He has an anger management problem, and that's serious, and it's up to you whether that's a deal breaker. At very least he needs to be off his couch, on a therapist's, and explaining to you exactly what he's doing to make sure he knows how to control himself. And it's possible--extremely unlikely, but possible--that he's really an evil psychopath who has been fooling you all along, as a bunch of people have leapt to suggest. What is certain is that you need to determine whether you're looking at an evil person or a good person who did an evil thing, and if the latter, what needs to be done to keep him from doing it again.
posted by darksasami at 10:44 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

I will also echo Klangklangston: please don't take too seriously the responses that are nothing more than fanfic attempting to flesh out the characters you have introduced in the most villainous--or most sympathetic--ways possible.
posted by darksasami at 10:49 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think most of us who have had problems with the dog-kicking have also suggested that the meds need to be looked into. There's a middle ground between "leave him forever" and "hey, no big deal". I for one think that some of the "no big deal" people are not taking into consideration that someone who has committed a violent action against an apparently beloved creature might need to be dealt with with some caution.

I'd try and get him help. Of course. But I still wouldn't leave my dog alone with him, either.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:51 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh god, what a warning sign. Seriously. Anyone who lashes out violently at an allegedly beloved animal is ... oh, fuck it. I'm going to create a simple keyboard macro to produce DTMFA just for situations like this.
posted by paultopia at 11:33 PM on March 18, 2009

Jesus god, people. A loving, problem-free relationship of three years, thrown out the window because of something done WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MIND ALTERING DRUGS, something which has NEVER OCCURRED BEFORE. Do you even hear yourselves? OP, get him help. Don't leave him, get him help! Be there for him when he needs you. If this persists, reevaluate. But don't listen to the Black and White Brigade.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:41 PM on March 18, 2009 [10 favorites]

My experience has generally been that people usually treat their dogs and kids about the same way.

It's good that this happened before the marriage. No matter how it feels, no matter how many deposits have been paid and invitations sent, it's not too late to delay/cancel the wedding.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:11 AM on March 19, 2009

After thinking about it for a while, I want to revise my opinion.

First of all, the problem with animal abusers as a type of person, is that they are irrational, impulsive, and of course, violent. Sure, someone you don't want around. But at the same time, abusers are habitual- you don't become an abuser from one incident, just like you don't become a drug addict from trying pot that one time in college.

So the problem really at issue here, isn't that your fiance is an abuser, unless he has some sort of history with pets we're not hearing about. No, it's about the character of your fiance as a person, which we don't know.

Part of the problem in the responses you are getting to this question, is that a lot of people already have an opinion about what's going on from the tagline- which introduces your fiance as a person who kicked a dog. Then only in the inside is a short bio about him, which most people will just skim anyway, they've already made up their mind. But we don't know him, we don't know what he's like, we don't know what's going on in his life. And meanwhile, you express doubt about your relationship, and one thing I've noticed here at askme, is that people tend to encourage the OP to go with their gut feelings- in this case to break the relationship- over a more objective view of things.

Which brings me to my next thought: I think you're still in shock. While your fiance is now unemployed, I gather you still have your job, and he's been spending time sitting around depressed. Meanwhile your job keeps you away for most of the day, you don't see him until you get home. You pop home for some papers and- what! Your kind significant other who would never hurt a fly is kicking the dog. I can see how that would be upsetting.

But I wonder how much of it was because it was so terrible and abusive, and how much of it was surprise that such a thing could ever happen. Definitely give yourself a chance to step back from things, I gather you posted this not long after it happened. If it was mostly surprise, then maybe it's less about your SO suddenly becoming a possible animal abuser, and more about his changing so suddenly (over a few months to half a year is my guess) and perhaps you haven't been as close to him lately, as you were to each other back when you were both working.

So to reiterate: this animal abuse stuff is a red herring, it's misleading. It's really about you and him, your relationship, his history, etc, etc.

The advice here is still good though: get to the bottom of this, help him get through this if it's just a rough patch, and don't be so willing to discount the three years you have known him for something that could be a one time thing. Of course, if he can't change himself, then dump him.
posted by tachikoma_robot at 12:40 AM on March 19, 2009

Or even simpler: only you and the people near you know the answers to these questions, the rest of us are just judging his character by what you have told us. (And not judging very fairly, if I may add)

Things you might ask yourself:
Does he have a history of doing things like this before that you may have overlooked?
Could it be his meds/depression? (Doesn't excuse him, but something that may be able to change)
You mentioned therapy. Is something from his past/childhood been bothering him lately?

And of course, ask yourself after you've had some time to think things through calmly:
Do you want to try and pull your relationship back together?

Whatever you do, don't let strangers on the internet convince you they know more than you do, we're all just guessing. (myself included- if i'm wrong just ignore)
posted by tachikoma_robot at 1:16 AM on March 19, 2009

It sounds like he's unwell. You know him best and if you say this is completely out of character, chances are that he's sick, not that he's secretly a card-carrying dog-kicking enthusiast. You need to talk to your fiance's doctor as soon as possible. Drag him to the ER if necessary. Tell him it's because you're sick if it'll help you get him through the door.

For those who are screaming "OMG, he kicked a dog - dump him!" - the fiance is mentally ill. This is a health issue, not a moral one. Sure, maybe you'd never, ever kick a dog, no matter how bad you were feeling. Thinking of all the times I've felt shitty, neither would I. Violence against animals is completely unforgivable. But maybe neither you, nor I, have ever been as sick as the poster's fiance is right now. Maybe if your brain chemicals were doing what his brain chemicals were doing, you'd lose your temper in the same way, or worse. Suspend your personal judgements until he's had time to see his shrink.

I'd also encourage you to consider the circumstances of the attack. This isn't a justification for violence, just a plausible explanation for how it could have come to to pass. The medication was making the fiance irritable, aggressive and unhinged. He needed to get the barking dog out of the house and out of his earshot. Maybe he knew he was about losing it and was afraid of what he might do. The dog, not realising why she was being sent outside, resisted. Maybe she thought it was a game. The fiance snapped and used force, and because he was angry and sick, he used too much force. What he did was violent and cruel, but it's not in the same pathological category of violence as, say, beating up a dog while it sleeps.

For the dog's safety, the OP needs to keep it away from her fiance while he recovers. She needs to carefully assess whether she feels safe in his presence. Then, she should do whatever she can to support her fiance through the recovery process. This could include attending his doctors' appointments, getting him off the couch and into the sunshine, making him exercise and monitoring his behaviour each time his medication changes. If he's not better by the time her patience runs out, then sure, DTMFA. But don't throw away a three-year relationship just because he lost it once with a dog while mentally ill. There but for the grace of [?] go all of us.
posted by embrangled at 1:46 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of resources that go in-depth on early warning signs of abuse. The reason why many answerers are having such visceral reaction to this question isn't just the kick-the-dog movie cliche. It's also because successful abusers often do lie dormant for years. They wait until the right opportunity, because that's what they do, they look for weakness either in personality, or in timing, or because now you're married and can't easily get away.

Early Warning Signs of Future Abuse:

Even giving the situation the best-case-scenario reading: it was a nudge, medication induced, one-time, etc... Your friend still perceived what she perceived and feels how she feels. I know that this would be a dealbreaker for me personally because I could never trust that person again, because who knows what else the world will throw at us? The lack of trust itself would make the relationship falter.

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? A person who is truly remorseful and willing and able to make amends will not just apologize. They will be horrified at their action. They will submit control and be receptive to reasonable requests to get better and fix the situation. All of the common suggestions in this thread are reasonable. Obviously you're not doing this to be a control freak or to be unforgiving or to create extra stess but because the trust is broken and the fiance has proven to be currently unable to have self-control. The three of you, yourself, the fiance and a counselor should create a reform plan. If they are unwilling or make excuses to follow these guidelines step by step or they are quick to control even this process, leave and count yourself lucky. No need for ultimatums. If they understand the gravity of the situation, they will understand the implicit ultimatum and if they care about you, they will care for your own wellbeing during this process. Depression or anxiety might hinder understanding or the ability to make significant forward progress, but if the intent is there and there is always action no matter how small that is good. But don't let them use depression as an excuse. There needs to be consequences, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. That's how people change bad behavior, whether anger or alcoholism.

If I somehow found myself in your fiance's shoes, I would probably suggest separation because it would be the most mature and selfless thing to do. He might mean with all sincerity that it will never happen again, but if this is really, truly a one-off, how can he even know enough about himself to make that promise? The thought that one might be out of control and hurt someone they love is unbearable.

On the other hand, I have lived with an SO who had a mental illness that led to uncontrolled and dangerous behavior. I can sympathize with the fear, self-doubt and lack of trust that leads to. I remember the feeling of guilt that, if only I was better or took better care of them, they'd be okay. Or the guilt that if you leave them, they might fall apart. Sometimes the kindest, fairest thing to do for yourself is to admit that you have to take care of yourself first and foremost. That's not selfish and that's not "throwing away" a three year relationship. Staying in a fearful relationship might just be "throwing away" the most amazing relationship yet to come. Ultimately that may be the kindest, fairest thing for your fiance, too.

But if you do anything at all, call off the marriage in the most gentle and face-saving way possible. This relationship needs to be reevaluated from scratch.
posted by Skwirl at 1:56 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

For those crying DTMF: I have to wonder whether, if this were a story were the other way around - about a dog that had bitten or otherwise roughed up someone's fiancé, would you be calling for the narrator to get rid of the dog - as you're calling for her to get rid of the fiancé in the current story - or instead be innovative and crafty in developing ways to explain how the dog shouldn't be condemned over a single incident?
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 AM on March 19, 2009

Do yourself a favor, go find a payphone someplace so your phone/cell isn't involved. Call the local police department's business number and ask if they have a domestic violence unit. Call said unit. Ask just one question. How many times have they ended up getting called back to a house to pick up a corpse from a place where the guy said "it'll never happen again, just take me back"

Ask anyone in the EMT, or Police fields. Domestic violence is never a one time thing. He did it this time, if he gets away with it, next time gets easier, and now you have doubts about it, so you let it go again and take him back, and that reinforces that it's ok to do. He needs to get SERIOUS HELP, check him into the ER if you have to, call his doctor if you have to, TELL his doctor that he was kicking the crap outta the dog and you need to know what his next step is. If fiance is NOT actively jumping through hoops to find out how to fix this with more than platitudes and words? DUMP HIM and RUN.
posted by legotech at 3:29 AM on March 19, 2009

oh, and to XMLicious, most states give a dog one bite, because they are ANIMALS who don't have higher intelligence....but if I came home and my dog had anyone cornered and was mauling them so their screams could be heard in another room? I'd break his neck myself before calling animal control.
posted by legotech at 3:32 AM on March 19, 2009

This is almost certainly a one-time event, and not worth throwing away a three-year relationship, but you need to put everything aside right now and focus on fixing this.
I'm not quite clear how this became the OP's problem in the first place, and definitely don't get how it's her responsibility to fix. It's his. All of it's his, and that's why he's gotten himself into a death spiral. Help him fix his meds, sure. Those are in all likelihood contributing. But please, please don't get talked into making this your problem to fix. This way lies madness and a clear path for him to fail to accept responsibility for his actions, his happiness, and his life. You're better off calling the whole thing off now and saving yourself the misery.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:06 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

This all assumes that you're being honest with yourself and with us when you say he's *never* done anything like this before. You need to go off, on your own, for about 30 minutes and ask you "Honestly, is this new? Have I ever seen this before?

If no, there's a big warning light lit here.

He's on meds, and his personality is changing.


It is okay to hate what he's become, just as long as you realize you might get the man you love back, but you're going to have to be the assertive one. He can't, because either the meds aren't working, or they're actively making things worse.

You need to get him to the doc -- or a new doc. The meds need to be changed. They might be helping anxiety, but they aren't doing squat for the depression, and they're making him less inhibited and more reactive. That plus frustration = violence.

This won't be easy. No, that's not right. This will be fucking hard. But it's your only chance of bringing the man you love back. Get him to a doc -- a new one if the current one blows off the symptoms. Go with him. You're both being traumatized by this new version of him.

If it isn't -- if this really wasn't the first time, if this is a pattern, you need to get out. That's why you need to be totally, completely and painfully honest with yourself when you ask yourself "has he done this before? Have I seen this before?"

I hope you find the right answer for you, for him, and for the dog. This is a horrible thing to have to go through. I wish there was something more we could do.
posted by eriko at 4:17 AM on March 19, 2009

Re-reading the original post, mauling them so their screams could be heard in another room seems to my reading like a rather dramatic interpretation that may have been stretched a little to make your point. I'm not a dog owner but is yelping really the equivalent of screaming in pain? I thought it was more the equivalent of saying "ouch". Don't break your dog's neck for making someone say "ouch" legotech.

What the guy did, though undoubtedly boorish and craven, doesn't in the description above sound much worse than me pummeling my little brothers as a kid or pummeling friends at school or vice versa - we definitely would say "ouch" and whine in that situation. Without further details I think talking about "mauling" or labeling the fiancé a violent individual is overwrought. Yet it seems to me that many of the people here are speaking as though they've got certain knowledge of what happened, of what was going through the fiancé's mind, and what was going through the dog's mind even.

With that said, I'm off to enjoy a ham sandwich, something that I'm sure none of the true animal lovers here would ever do since it necessitates harming one of our porcine brothers. Four legs good, two legs bad.
posted by XMLicious at 4:27 AM on March 19, 2009

OP, I'm not even a dog-lover, but reading your question sent chills down my spine. It reminds me so much of a former co-worker's situation.

I understand that you love your fiance very much, and want so badly to believe that this is just a one-time thing because you do. But please take a step back from the situation before concluding so.

The issue here isn't so much that he's depressed and angry. The issue here is that he chose to take out his anger a certain way. Being on meds doesn't excuse his behavior, because even if they did exacerbate his emotions and impair his judgement, DRUGS DON'T DICTATE SPECIFIC ACTIONS. They don't tell you to pull out a knife, they don't tell you to shoot a gun, and they most certainly don't tell you to kick a dog.

The issue here as well is that he took out his anger out not on a table or a door, but on a living, breathing creature, and that's what makes it cruelty or abuse. The thing with abusers is that they always place the blame for their actions on external events: "It wouldn't stop barking, so I kicked it!" "If you didn't make me so angry, I wouldn't have done it!" It would hardly be practical to prevent dogs from barking randomly, or for one to assess each action as to whether or not it would that person angry. Sometimes the anger is really directed at themselves, but they end up lashing out at the next nearest thing. I don't blame the other people for equivocating this as an early sign to domestic abuse, because there's a very thin line there, when you hurt the living, breathing creatures you supposedly love.

You know how the platitudes say, we cannot control what the world throws at us, we cannot control our emotions, but what we can control is how we react to it? Well, your fiance needs to do that, and so do you.

So your instincts were right, to both remove yourself and the dog away from the immediate situation. Keep listening to your gut.

Your fiance needs help. He really, really does, for his own sake and everyone else's. He might end up hurting himself or the people he loves if he doesn't do anything beyond just apologizing. None of us here knows what he's dealing with, so please do seek professional help. And while I recommend being fully supportive, I would also recommend postponing your wedding indefinitely: not just because you need to reassess your relationship with this man, but also because planning a wedding is stressful in itself, and neither of you needs to deal with that right now.

Now as to why your question sent chills down my spine: One of my co-workers was beaten up by her boyfriend. She hid her black eyes well with concealer, and though she didn't confide about physical abuse, she did talk about their relationship sometimes, and when I looked up information about abuse, all the signs were there. Another former co-worker, an intelligent, hard-working fellow manager who I looked up to and respected, one day showed me her bruised arm and confided in me that her husband hit her for the very first time in their three-year marriage. The following days, he apologized profusely, was very sweet, courted her good favor, and promised he would never, ever do it again. Until it happened again.
posted by Lush at 4:51 AM on March 19, 2009

I have, when under extreme emotional duress, done things that have SCARED my pets (not to them, but yelling, slamming things, etc) and basically the reality of OHMYGODISCAREDMYBABIES jolted me back. Keeping in mind I never hurt them, but still: extreme emotional disturbance can make people do things that they would not otherwise do, possibly including this.

I agree with the above poster, he's on the wrong meds. This is an issue for his psychologist to help him deal with, and while removing the dog and possibly yourself until it's sorted is not an unreasonable option, you are the only one who knows if it really needs to happen. That said, I personally would not leave the dog with him until his medication has been resolved and he's back to being himself.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:56 AM on March 19, 2009

(Disclaimer: I don't have pets; I don't like pets)

I went through a period of depression and I didn't really realize it. I'll bring up my favorite analogy. You get some new windshield wipers and they're great. They do such an awesome job. Six months later, you realize that they suck and why didn't you notice it before. It's because it happened little by little each day. The delta between days is so small that you don't notice it and you are exposed to it each day, so it's harder to compare over longer periods of time because your expectations are reset each day. Slipping into depression (and lots of other things) is like that. You're yourself and it's really hard to self-monitor that sort of thing and realize what's happening. It usually takes some sort of wake up call.

I can attest to the fact that psychomeds and even non-psychomeds can change your personality. They can also change your cognitive abilities. I was on Zoloft for a while and it was a really good drug for me. However, I know people that it makes absolutely crazy and out of control. Luckily, there's a wide selection to choose from.

A few months ago I had a steroid injection in my shoulder to help with some joint pain problems that I as having. And I got 'roid rage. And I didn't even realize it. But I was really angry. Luckily my spouse helped clue me in (as she did in the case of my depression as well). It subsided after a few days and I was able to keep myself in check b/c I was aware of it, but it was really hard.

If she had ditched me when I was going through my depression, who knows what would have happened. At the very least it would have made me even more depressed.

Her support helped me through that. It wasn't her problem; I had to do the work in therapy and better myself, but she was a big part of the help that I got.

Now as for this particular situation, I can totally understand how the wrong medication would really impair this guy's judgment and self-control. Of course, like others have said, we have to take your word on it that prior to his depression that he was all nicey-nice.

So, I was say don't dump him. Help him get the help he needs. Get him on different meds. If you feel unsafe (for yourself and/or the dog) while he hasn't found the right one, take precautions.
posted by reddot at 6:07 AM on March 19, 2009

just want to add that i too am 'mentally ill' and i would never, ever, ever abuse an animal. i cannot even begin to conceive of ever sinking so low, even at my absolute worst. unless you believe that this guy had some sort of lapse of thought or consciousness that rendered him entirely clueless as to what he was doing, then any mental illness that this action can be attributed to is of the sort that you should think long and hard about whether you want to be with him regardless. this is violence of the worst kind. i can't imagine that this can in any way be attributed to anxiety or depression.

far more likely, it seems to me, is that he felt whatever he felt (and quite plausibly was also anxious and/or depressed) and in that moment just did not care.
posted by austere at 6:37 AM on March 19, 2009

This society is over-medicated, maybe it has something to do with pharmaceuticals and healthcare or something, I don't know, but I don't understand why a [good] doctor would prescribe medication for your fiancee. Clearly, he was depressed because he lost his job. The thing that would heal him and make him whole is being EMPLOYED again, not just giving meds to screw with people's minds. As you can see, the meds didn't even fix the problem!

That said, if this situation is truly an anomaly, never happened before, I think calling off your wedding is a bit over-the-top. I like the suggestions of taking some time away from him while he sorts out things, including getting a second opinion on those meds. I predict your anger will die down as the days passed, and within the next month, you'll be okay again. If by May, you're not over it yet, it might be time to think about postponing the wedding.

Good luck
posted by GeniPalm at 6:53 AM on March 19, 2009

I don't understand why a [good] doctor would prescribe medication for your fiance

A good doctor prescribes psychiatric medication for people who show signs of having an endogenous (i.e., not caused by outward circumstances) psychiatric illness. You're assuming the doctor prescribed the medication because the guy was upset about losing his job--this is almost certainly not the case.

Having depressive disorder or anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being sad or being worried.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:22 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love dogs. Serious, borderline-obsessive love.

A confession:

My family had a darling cockerpoo named Sweet Pea. BEST. DOG. EVER. About 15 years or so ago, I was visiting my parents. I was in the middle of something (crossword, book - don't remember), and Sweet Pea would not stop jumping in my lap. I'd put her down, and she'd jump up again. Out of anger, I stood up and kicked her. I was barefoot, and I kicked her with the top of my foot. It was more like a hard shove, and I didn't hurt her, but oh, the look on that sweet dog's face... I have never forgiven myself.

I had never done it before, and in 15 years I've never done it again. I've never hit a person either.

I'm bipolar, but I only started taking meds a few years ago. It's possible that my emotional state at the time had something to do with it, but that's not really my point. My point is, there ARE one-off instances in which a person acts badly or does something completely out of character. It doesn't necessarily have to be a relationship's death knell.

Whenever I see these threads and all the DTMFA comments, I have to wonder what the average age is of the posters. It's a sweeping generalization, I know, and I'll get a lot of heat for this, but I would bet that the majority of those comments come from people in their mid-twenties or younger.

I don't mean that as an insult. I just mean that often life experience teaches you a degree of tolerance and forgiveness.
posted by Evangeline at 7:23 AM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

I took Wellbutrin a few years ago, briefly -- I stopped taking it because it made me so irritable and angry I'd fly off the handle over tiny, tiny things. If the meds are a recent thing, or if the dosage has changed recently, he needs to talk to his doctor ASAP.
posted by sarcasticah at 7:41 AM on March 19, 2009

Many people have said this before, I would like the two (irreconcilable) points brought up.

1. Anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication, specifically SSRI's, can cause unreasonable aggression and anger when starting a regime, changing it, or ending it. These SSRI's include, but are not limited to Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Lexapro, Cymbalta, etc. This is a fairly common side-effect. If you notice a change in personality, (i.e. an increase in anger and irritability) talk to your doctor. SSRI's take a significant amount of time to build up to a standard dose, and as such side effects may not emerge until several months into treatment. (SSRI's can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months to reach a stable level)

These issues can usually be easily mitigated. (Stopping the dose, tapering the dose, switching to a different SSRI, adding medication.) A Psychiatrist will know what to do in this case.

Personal anecdote: While coming off of prozac, I became extremely irritable and angry. I never got physical, but I did come close when I got into a huge argument with my father over some lame minor issue. I returned to the doctor, and we decided we would taper off the dose much more slowly. WHAMO, the irritability and anger dissapeared, and I was able to taper off successfully. Given that, I don't think I was in a position where I would kick another being, either my father or an innocent dog.

2. Hitting animals is entirely unnaceptable. In fact, substantial evidence exists that violence towards animals is correlated with violence towards people. I personally view this as a danger sign. Do you have any reason to believe this has happened previously?

Obviously you have to make a decision here that none of us is able to make for you. Keeping in mind the above knowledge, weigh the evidence appropriately.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2009

Whenever I see these threads and all the DTMFA comments, I have to wonder what the average age is of the posters. It's a sweeping generalization, I know, and I'll get a lot of heat for this, but I would bet that the majority of those comments come from people in their mid-twenties or younger.

Mid-thirties. For the past 9 years, I have lived with someone who is mentally ill, with a history of diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar (what they currently call him), among others. There have been numerous medication adjustments and changes since he's been here, and for a short period he went unmedicated. I have seen him flip out entirely, and it isn't pretty. He once stabbed the wall during a big loud screaming "argument", and during very bad times has been known to throw things, slam his own head into the wall, etc.

We have a little dog that we both adore. The idea of him ever kicking the dog is unthinkable. He isn't on Metafilter but knows what it is, and when I said something to him about this question he responded with a flat statement that he would not ever kick our dog, that it was not possible he would get so screwed up that it would happen.

And if he did? That would be the point that I decided his mental illness made him too dangerous to have around, to let him near either me or my pets. Sorry.
posted by dilettante at 8:36 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

And if he did? That would be the point that I decided his mental illness made him too dangerous to have around, to let him near either me or my pets. Sorry.

Thank god my friends and loved ones are a little more understanding.

I'm sure by some commenters' estimation now I'm a VERY BAD PERSON. Except... I'm not. As I said, it was a one-off. My point is that people DO change, and it's discouraging to see how cynical some of these comments are.
posted by Evangeline at 8:44 AM on March 19, 2009

I said something to him about this question he responded with a flat statement that he would not ever kick our dog, that it was not possible he would get so screwed up that it would happen.

Oh, and by the way, I would have said exactly the same thing before it happened.
posted by Evangeline at 8:48 AM on March 19, 2009

Anon, I'm sure most of the MeFi community has stopped reading this thread by now, but I hope you're still around. Almost all of these responses encompass a meaningful and considerate spectrum of assessments for dealing with animal abuse and relationship troubles. I'm weighing in (for the second time this week on Metafilter, jeez) as an animal shelter volunteer in case anyone hasn't already, so I apologize if I seem overly mushy or whatever about abused animals, but it's a serious sticking point to me. You sound like a good dog owner to whom I'd be thrilled to sign away a shelter dog. Your fiance, not so much. Obviously defer to any expert advice, as I'm just a layperson.

1. Please, please, please take Alley to the vet. If my intra-thread searches for advice about seeking medical attention came up dry because no one else suggested this, let me emphasize again: animals can easily get sick and die from seemingly minor injuries inflicted by people much bigger than they are. Even if Alley is a big dog, a golden retriever or a Great Dane, she could easily sustain cracked ribs and pulmonary contusions and a host of other very egregious injuries that your untrained eye can't see. I have personally seen one terrier and two cats die overnight from kicking after we rescued them from abusive homes. Please take her to the vet and honestly tell him what happened so he or she knows what injuries to keep in mind.

2. The spectrum of responses says a lot about everyone's value systems. Pets range from household accessories to family members depending on a person's world view. You, however, sound like someone who lands way, way down on the end of animals-as-family. Why? You gave your dog a fake name on an anonymous question, as if she were a person. I know it's a minor action, perhaps an editorial flourish, but I've decided it's a meaningful gesture that you didn't want to talk about your dog like she was just a thing who wandered in the path of your fiance's foot.

If you are the kind of person who thinks of animals as significant and worthy creatures who deserve our unstinted love and protection, this was probably a dealbreaker. As someone said upthread, anger, even anger alchemized by medication and depression and stress, does not force us to do awful things like resorting to violence. Your husband did have a choice, and he chose to kick your dog. To other people, this would be a scary incident, an marital obstacle, a reason to give up the dog and work on the marriage. To me, and I think maybe to you as well, this is a clean dealbreaker. It means he hurt a creature who has done nothing but love him and trust him. He was her pack, her alpha dog, her protector, and he took out a complex human emotion on her that she just can't comprehend. I'm not saying that your dog is forever scarred by this (allegedly) one-time event, or that she even has the mental capacity to wonder what happened, but it's nevertheless an unbearably unethical action to anyone who loves animals as family.

That's why animal abuse is so awful to witness--it violates creatures to whom actions are relatively inexplicable and recourse is minimal. Alley doesn't understand the human malaise of unemployment or even stress, and she can't tell you if this only the first time you caught your fiance abusing her. No matter what you decide, I do think that you should keep your fiance away from all animals for a long time while he sorts out his problems.

I can't imagine what it would be like, Anon, to walk in on someone you love hurting someone else you loved, but my heart breaks for you. I'm not saying you should leave him, but it's not melodramatic if this one incident changes him in your eyes. Again, this comes down to a matter of values, and if marrying someone who respects and protects animals is a fundamental Must in your book, then this is going to be a very hard decision.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

...he responded with a flat statement that he would not ever kick our dog, that it was not possible he would get so screwed up that it would happen.

There's a philosophical argument buried in this thread -- one about free will. I'm not talking about the purest form of this argument, which is whether or not free will exists at all. I'm talking about whether or not free will can be curtailed AT ALL.

ARE there meds/conditions that sometimes affect some people, giving them UNCONTROLLABLE urges?

If someone commits a bad act, is it ALWAYS the case that he could have chosen not to?

If there are two people in this thread, and one of them thinks people ALWAYS have choices and the other one thinks that sometimes they don't, these two people have no bases for continuing their conversation. All they can do is snark at each other or talk past each other. They are disagreeing on a fundamental level.

My stance -- based on life experience -- is that some urges in some cases ARE uncontrollable. If you're not the person having the urges, you can't for sure tell whether the other person could have stopped himself or not. So as often is the case in relationships, you have to rely on judgment and trust.

If someone I loved behaved in a non-characteristic way and insisted it was out of his control, I would tend to believe him.

The next issue is...

Free will or not, does it matter? Let's say (for the sake of argument) that a woman's husband does something terrible and it IS beyond his control. Let's say he does it just once and never does it again. Should she dump him? Let's say he does it several times. Should she dump him?

There's no right answer to this. It depends on ones ethics, tolerance, risk assessment and empathy. I believe I have a SERIOUS COMMITMENT to the loved ones in my life. That doesn't mean dumping is out of the question. It means dumping is a last resort. If someone does something bad ONCE, I'm going to do what I can to help them and help the relationship. I'm not going to immediately say "deal breaker" and hit the road. But that's me.
posted by grumblebee at 9:02 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Forget the dog for a second, just take the dog out of the equation: What you have left is a man, weeks away from what is supposed to be a joyous event, who is depressed, anxious, angry, 'different' and sitting at home all day. Meds or otherwise, that's something that needs to be sorted out, and until it is, the wedding should be on hold, because that's no way to start a marriage.

Good luck.
posted by sageleaf at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem as I see it is that no matter what happens, you can't un-know that this happened. Should you celebrate your golden anniversary with him, will you look back and say "I'm so glad we got over that Alley-kicking thing, Honey"? If you can on faith alone, you are a bigger person than I am.

Sure, someone can just become overcome by a fit of anger that will never happen again - in the same way. It can be a one-time dog-kicking thing - but a future fist-hole in the drywall, road rage incident, or phone-throwing across the room thing, unless this gets taken care of properly. Can you look forward to fifty years on tenterhooks - or can a way be found to mend it and make it stronger for it? There's lots of good advice above, which I am seeing from the perspective of someone who's been in Alley's situation (and was able to leave under her own power - unlike Alley).

But I must ask...
Alley wouldn't stop barking at the telephone? If she really was, why? Was it sitting there quietly on the table as it does a lot of the time, like when she's never barked at it before? Or was it ringing a lot? If it was, was it being answered - or not? Because if unemployed guy sitting at home all day watching TV or sleeping isn't answering the phone...he needs more help than just First-Time Dog Kickers Anonymous. He needs more help with being different, angrier, anxious, depressed, unemployed and sitting around the house all day watching TV or sleeping with his pants on fire.

I hope for all the best for you - and apologize that if in trying to answer your question along with others, I posited more than may have been looking for. I don't that you're not being melodramatic - but you have real cause for concern, especially if you're considering children. Because it's no fun to have to explain to them why Daddy is different, angrier, anxious, depressed, unemployed and sitting around the house all day watching TV or sleeping.
posted by peagood at 12:57 PM on March 19, 2009

I think the real red flag that pops up about this is not only that he kicked the dog, but that you CAUGHT HIM DOING IT. He didn't think you were going to be home... you completely caught him in the act. While it's possible that this was a one time thing, I *highly* doubt that to be the case. He may have kicked your dog numerous times and this is the first time you've caught him in the act.

Harming an innocent (dog, cat, child, guinea pig, whatever) is a BIG RED FLAG that this guy has serious, serious issues.

Be thankful that you caught him this time. Take it as a sign from a higher power if you believe in that sort of thing... a clear indicator that you should NOT marry this man.

Animal abusers frequently go on to abuse people (as if abusing animals wasn't criminal enough). Do not have children with this man. Do not pass go. Step away.
posted by bacall423 at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2009

Yelping is not good, I've only heard it when a dog is really hurt.

Heh. My animals are vocal, to the point of being annoying at times. If the cats want to get in a cabinet or something, gently nudging them away with your foot (or picking them up with your hands) will elicit screams that would make most people think I was beating them.

Back when I had dogs, they were the same way when they wanted to do (or not do) something and were being forced, regardless of how little physical force was being applied.

His note may have just been prompted by a combination of his state of mind and your (possible, I wasn't there..kick can mean a lot of things) overreaction.

That said, fix his drugs. The wrong drugs can seriously fuck a person's mental state up. Hell, even the right drugs can seriously fuck a person's mental state up when they're going on or off or forget a dose. (My SO has serious physical and mental issues, although not of the angry sort, any time she is more than a couple hours late with her Effexor XR, despite it helping her drastically most of the time)
posted by wierdo at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2009

I just want to add my voice to the chorus off people saying that medication for psychological and other disorders can completely change a person. Often for the worse. Much, much worse.

When I needed to see a psychiatrist, I invested a lot of time and effort finding someone who would not try to prescribe me psychiatric drugs and would stick to actual head-shrinking because I have seen what psych drugs can turn people into. Your fiance might in fact not have been himself, in the sense that he actually is a different person now that his brain chemistry is being fucked with.

The people saying that your husband *must* be a sociopath should stop channeling Nancy Grace.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2009

This may be all-too-cynical, but honestly, I would be marveling at the remarkable coincidence that at the very moment your fiance kicks the dog for the first time, you happen to be walking in the door. Or could it be that after three years of near-misses, his luck ran out? Just sayin'.
posted by agentwills at 5:39 AM on March 20, 2009

I would be marveling at the remarkable coincidence that at the very moment your fiance kicks the dog for the first time, you happen to be walking in the door. Or could it be that after three years of near-misses, his luck ran out? Just sayin'.

Dogs aren't stupid. When a dog has been beaten by someone for three years, they show fear and aggression around them. If the dog doesn't behave strangely around the fiance all the time, it's highly unlikely to be a habit.
posted by darksasami at 11:23 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I disagree with everyone. People can snap and then they can snap right back.

It is astounding to me how many people have lost the plot when it comes to forgiveness.

Just wait until you have experience with someone who snaps, and then snaps again and again, while you forgive and wait for them to snap back.

This is a gigantic red flag, and it needs to be treated as such.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:26 AM on March 23, 2009

Are dog-kickers as bad as rapists, murderers, hell, even Bernie Madoff? No.

Actually, animal abuse is a major indicator of a person who may also have violent tendencies toward people. Spousal abuse is often carried out by individuals who also abuse animals.

What I am advising is simply to take the situation seriously. If this is *really* a never-seen-before occurrence, and your friend can *really* say that there was no prior indication that the fiancee is abusive, or even a little controlling (behaviors that maybe have been ignored because they didn't seem like a big deal), then maybe there isn't much to worry about. But just remember that everyone who has ever been abused can also cite the first time anything bad happened, when it seemed SO out of character and like an isolated event.

I'd seriously look at the meds, as others have said. Could be that the meds don't mix with him. Could be that a change could fix everything. Or he could have depressive tendencies that only get worse as life goes on. I don't think DTMF is appropriate, but BMF (Be Mindful Forever) is.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2009

"Actually, animal abuse is a major indicator of a person who may also have violent tendencies toward people. Spousal abuse is often carried out by individuals who also abuse animals."

Actually, it seems like you're trying to correct me by proposing a correlation, which neither disproves what I said nor adds anything aside from fear-mongering. Hitler was famously nice to his dogs; and not everyone who kicks a dog once then goes on to abuse their spouse. Drawing conclusions based on this one incident, especially as it's now filtered through two other people, is premature.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, it seems like you're trying to correct me by proposing a correlation, which neither disproves what I said nor adds anything aside from fear-mongering.

Actually, I was just typing two sentences that I thought might be of interest to someone. This isn't a battle between you and me and I'm not trying to say WHAT IS GOING ON. Just ... two sentences that I though might be of interest to someone.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2009

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